Belly Up to the Bar

Interesting conversation going on in the Twitterverse today. The topic - alcohol consumption amongst ministry leaders, or thereabouts.

You've heard the old saw that goes "You should never talk about religion in bars?" Turns out the reverse is true: You should never talk about booze in church. I've been involved in some pretty heated discussions both in cyberspace and in meatspace when it comes to religion and alcohol. The only topic that might be more hotly contested is gun legislation.

My life taken as a whole, I am far from a tea-totaler. I have personally consumed quite a bit of alcohol in my lifetime. I spent a lot of my adult life working in the bar and restaurant industry, and became quite a connoisseur of good wines, beers and liquors. I personally have no issues with alcohol consumption, and this is not going to turn into a treatise on abstinence. It took some time myself to come to a perspective on drinking. My wife, bless her, never pushed me on it, rather letting God gently work on me. I struggle with many things, but alcohol is not one of them.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24 : All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. We often hear verse 23 quoted as justification for whatever we want to do; but can we ignore the counsel of verse 24?

I do not think alcohol consumption is a salvation issue in and of itself. It is an issue that each must seek God's face and will about. But I do have a story to tell about "the other's well-being."

When I first started going to Gospel Light, I had a part-time job tending bar in a little neighborhood pub in Bridgeport. I had been working behind a bar since I was 15, and found it a quick and easy way to earn some cash. I had no problems with it, morally or conscious-wise at first. "In fact..." I thought to myself, "I'm doing good! I'm sharing God right here in the bar!" We used to get into some pretty deep discussions, right there in the Shamrock.

Around this time, I started getting a little heat from the church leadership. It seemed that my personality leaned toward leadership, and there were hopes that someday I would be moving into a leadership role in the congregation. But our conservative little church could not have a bartender in leadership. "Why not?" I asked. I wasn't doing anything illegal. Tending bar was a noble and storied profession. Plus, I needed the money.

The "heat" was gentle and loving, by the way. No fire and brimstone. Just gentle encouragement about "Being a light" and witnessing and all that. And it started to get inside me after a while. I started feeling a little tug on my heart. But I was still justifying it to myself.

One night, I was working at the bar when a man came in. I didn't know his name, but I knew him from church. More importantly, I knew that I associated him with our addiction ministry. He sat at the end of the bar and asked for a beer. Then he said "That's okay, right, Brother?"

It was like a knife through my heart. I suddenly became clear to me that God had something greater for me, and that I was not looking out for "the other's well being" by doing what I was doing. I could not share the Gospel while pouring another round.

I knew that that man had a struggle with alcohol. God had shown me that. I did not know what struggles anyone else in the bar had. Was I feeding their addictions, tightening the chains of their own bondages? I had no way of knowing. (By the way - I never saw him again. Not in the bar, not in church.)

I gave my notice that week. I do not judge anyone who chooses to consume alcohol. (Though I will take you to task on your drunkenness!) And I have no objection to a glass of good wine with a nice dinner with family. But for me, the after-work beer is gone, and so is the beer-slinging job. But God has different things for each one of us. In the end, each of us must come before the Master and ask what he wants of us.


  1. It's those little moments that determine who we really are in Christ. I know your not looking for applause, but I applaud you for determining that your love of a job was not greater than your love for people.

    Our discussions over alcohol, really never have anything to do with alcohol, they have to do with religion and heart issues. Both extremes have the issue. Let me rephrase, we all have those issues.

    I pray that my heart is always sensitive. Sensitive to God's leading and conviction. Then when moments like the one you've described happen, I am aware and willing.

  2. I think you nailed it brother. I do believe in moderation and think it's quite biblical, BUT none of that is as important as the gospel and my witness and my brother's well being. So as Paul says it is a liberty, but one we better exercise in wisdom.

    Our local congregational context's will of course be different, I certainly am no crusader for alcohol and I don't enjoy the dumb church disputes over it. But a love a good conversation on good beers and wines :-)

    Great post man, and I appreciate your heart after Christ and you following a God given conviction.
    God bless.

  3. I definitely appreciate how you approach this topic and the openness to different situation's you conclude with.

  4. I appreciate your decision. I very very very rarely ever drink in public places - particularly bars - for that very reason. Though I absolutely love Guinness, Innis & Gunn, and Rogue (in all honesty, they are probably my favorite drinks, above milk, orange juice, sweet tea, or coffee), I only drink them at home w/ my wife, and probably only 5 or 6 times a year, just to be on the safe side, for my own sake, and the potential of causing another brother to stumble. Great blog, btw... I'll have to read here more often!

  5. Mike, I remember you sharing this a while back in another setting. That doesn't detract at all from your story or faithfulness.

    There's just one thing I'd raise (quoting you):

    Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24 : All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. We often hear verse 23 quoted as justification for whatever we want to do; but can we ignore the counsel of verse 24?

    I've seen V24 quoted to remove people's freedom. "I might have an alcohol problem, so you sin if you have a drink and I know it". If our heart is to serve others then this is not generally a problem, but so many people all seem to want to make one 'see Jesus MY way' that we need to be discerning. And for the guy that walked in the bar you might also have been the one to remind him that he had an issue with it and that he needed to stay dry.

    If only life was simple. I suspect you just heard the Spirit speaking and were obedient.

  6. Michael MahoneyMay 1, 2009 at 3:30 PM

    Toni, as always, thanks for the comments. I offered that verse simply to point out that we have a larger duty than to ourselves. Too often Christians take a "your problem is not my problem" or "your addiction does not trump my rights" kind of attitude. While I don't wish to handcuff anyone, I do want to point out that we should look around a bit. "Love thy neighbor" is the second most important commandment, after all.


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